With the new party’s mind set on visiting the agricultural dystopia of Bryntal, the friendly halfling Mazy Wheatberry (the first person they met at the gala, in fact) had previously pursuaded them to visit her hometown Hellack along the way, as it was only half a day of travel out of the way. Hellack, she explained, is a cheerful village of halfling farmers, and was Daggerford’s main source of food since its founding. That is, until Bryntal appeared with its preternaturally abundant produce. Still, the village seemed to be doing fine — until the party stepped up to Hellack’s normally welcome gate, now covered with sign ominously swaying in the wind and proclaiming: “CURSED. TURN BACK NOW.”
After finding the Wheatberry residence in the abandoned-looking place, Mazy quickly let them in, ushering them around a statue of a horrified-looking halfling set awkwardly at the couch, and explained the situation:
“Oh, that’s Jethro. I’m sure he’ll be fine soon enough. It’s the chickens, you see. From what my family tells me, a few weeks ago, something strange started happening to the chickens in town. Now we’re a proud village of chicken ranchers, so it was pretty troubling when almost overnight, the chickens turned anyone to stone who got too close to them. All our prized varieties of fluffy chickens turned monstrous looking, and each time an egg hatches, it’s one of these grotesque creatures. Usually this stone-ification lasts for only 24 hours, but our priestess of Chauntea tried to purify the lot of them once and for all, went out to the feeding ground to do it. We heard her scream, and some sort of very non-chicken roar, and when we came to get her, she was stone and hasn’t turned back to normal in 4 days. Another cleric from Bryntal is supposed to be coming by soon, but he or she must’ve gotten held up somewhere on the road.”
Her brother Jeb confirmed: “There’s a flock of them out in the radish fields, that might give you an idea of what we’re up against. The main horde of ’em seems to be holing up in the barn at the edge of town — we used to keep the oxen there, poor dears.”
The party investigated, and were met with a flock of vicious cockatrice — mutated chickens that can cause petrification with a single bite. Meowser was turned to stone mid-battle, and after the creatures were slain, he was dragged back into the Wheatberry household. The next morning (Meowser still stone-solid), reinforcements arrived. Lillian Norwood, an elderly cleric of Eldath, arrived in from her home of Bryntal to offer her support to the village; she was late, she explained, because her carriage had been attacked by the largest boar she had ever seen, leading the party to believe it may have been a wereboar.
She revived Meowser with greater restoration, but warned the party that Eldath was the goddess of peace and pacifism, and would lose her divine gifts if she were to use any sort of offensive magic. The party was then left to deal with the apparent source of the cockatrices: the barn at the edge of town. Anvrik and Kailesis scouted the area, and discovered that a basilisk had taken the barn as his den and his influence corrupted the poor chickens and turned them into the cockatrices harassing the town. Battle ensued, and the basilisk and his cockatrice army was slain without any petrification on the party’s side this time.
The Wheatberries thanked the party by giving them the family heirloom: a platinum dragon coin. With Eldath accompanying, the party then moved onto their main objective: Bryntal.
Paying the Troll Toll
“Stop! Travelers! Pay your toll to Sligo!”
There were two routes to get from Hellack to Bryntal: trekking through the Locust Waste, or crossing a bridge guarded by a troll. They chose the latter. They could smell the troll before they saw him — a vile, vain creature with a horde of gifts beneath the bridge. Lillian recommended negotiating with him, as the troll could be fairly easily placated, but unfortunately the only thing that Sligo the Troll really wanted was a cat to tear apart — in particular, Meowser. Meowser distracted it by chopping off an arm, giving the party just enough time to clear the bridge, carriage and all, with minimal damage. Much to Meowser’s dismay, the dismembered arm got up and attacked on its own volition, and the party quickly exited before any additional violence ensued.
Bryntal does not allow tourists or general visitors — only new immigrants are allowed, and that is the guise that the party took. Thorik and Kailesis were laborers, Anvrik was a cleric-in-training of Eldath, and Meowser hid in the back of the carriage. With Lillian’s help, the ruse worked, and the party was granted entry. The guards informed them that all residents of the village must sign a fealty agreement to King Solero, and that they would return in the morning with the paperwork.
Housing space was at a premium in the growing village, so Thorik Kailesis, and Anvrik were led to the only household with multiple empty rooms: the only dragonborn family in the village, led by Drin Sternhorn, the father of Eshkis, the cheerful green dragonborn the party met in Daggerford. Drin accepted the newcomers with a depressed apathy — they would be bunking in the rooms that once belonged to his sons. His older son, Eshkis, was executed for practicing forbidden druidic magic; as a preventative and punitive measure, his younger son Ronrik was sent to be an apprentice to the demon-miller; and his wife Drausa died of depression herself shortly thereafter.
He was incredulous at first when the party told him that Eshkis was alive and well in Daggerford (though prudently neglected to explain his new profession), but after recovering from the shock, begged the party to check on the status of Ronrik, who he had also given up hope on. In the night, the party was able to sneak past the curfew guards and entered the lair of the Demon Baker of Bryntal — a mill that seemed to function on its own volition, which the government attributed to demonic forces at work. As it turns out, the “demon” was in fact a tiefling bard named Pyriel, or Pie for short; he was exiled to the mill due to his appearance, and decided to embrace the ridiculous accusations instead of growing depressed from them. Ronrik was alive and well, albeit a bit embarrassed of the master-baker’s attempt at grandiose, prestidigitation-filled drama, and was happy to hear that his older brother was alive too.
Pie showed the party an entrance to a natural tunnel system, and explained that he refused to enter it himself after attempting it once and hearing ghostly voices. The party explored it, and the expansive cave system eventually connected to the castle of King Solero himself. Half the tunnels were teeming with guards, but the other half was sealed off. Immediately upon entering this sealed-off area, the party was attacked by a furious banshee; upon her defeat, the spirit calmed and revealed itself to be a cave druid that had been killed by Solero about 30 years ago. This area was the holy site for druids until Solero realized he could use the natural energies to create an agricultural empire for himself, and killed everyone who got in his way. Now assured that her people would be avenged, the spirit disappeared, and the party began to explore the rest of the caves. Noteworthy incidents include:
- Meeting Griff Yellowtooth, a mad halfling who considered himself to be the king, and crawled through the caves as easily as a rat. He gave Thorik a marble that always rolls in the direction of the nearest major source of water, which is pretty neat.
- Almost freeing a chatty, but admittedly creepy, manticore kept in a gladiatorial ring.
- Finding the party’s first magic weapon: Spite and Malice, a dagger filled with the poison of a green dragon
- Befriending Iris Lund, a traveler from Stormfjord who was on the way to Daggerford to apply for a loan at the Sword Coast Traders Bank for her family’s mining operation. Iris was captured and imprisoned in the jail located in the guards’ barracks. After Thorik broke her out of the jail via dimension door, she thanked him with her favorite shoes: the Boots of the Winterland.
After ensuring Iris stayed in the druidic sanctuary, the party followed the creek that ran throughout the cave system upstream until they came back up to the surface, apparently in some sort of courtyard. An expansive garden surrounded a pond fed by a natural spring, and in the center of that pond was a prison-like gazebo. Upon further investigation, the party found that imprisoned inside the adamantine structure was a Couatl, a celestial being who originally watched over the sacred site until Solero’s rampage began. Unable to free him from his shackles, the party quickly realized they were being watched: a raven (which was actually an imp in disguise) who had been keeping tabs on them turned out to be a familiar of Solero. The party felled the creature, but did not know what implications that had.
The party then began searching the castle itself. After passing through a number of traps, they eventually reach his private chambers. They found the aforementioned fealty agreements of everyone in town, which stated:
I hereby swear that I shall never bring harm—physical or otherwise—to Solero, King of Bryntal. I swear that I will serve him loyally and do my utmost best to bring honor to our fair city, and will never leave the walls of this town unless ordered to by King Solero or his royal guards. Upon the eventual passing of King Solero, this document is void.
There was a faint fiendish residue on the documents. After some additional investigation, the party summoned the creator of the documents: a powerful Yugoloth named Jarthax. Jarthax was the source of Solero’s power, acting as a warlock patron, but was willing to negotiate with the party to form a pact of their own. Kailesis ended up forming an agreement with him to take out Solero’s demon hirelings that protected him at all times, in exchange for a favor of his choosing — Kailesis had his word that it wouldn’t involve death or souls, hers or otherwise. Meowser and Thorik had less tolerance for the fiend, and Meowser quickly landed an attack on him. Mildly irritated, Jarthax gently reminded the party that he was an Arcanaloth, one of the highest branches of Yugoloth, by dragging Anvrik (who he assumed was Meowser’s “keeper”) through his home plane of Gehenna. Anvrik made it back alive, but only barely, and retains mental scars to this today. Jarthax, citing important business he had to get back to, then disappeared from the scene.
Returning to the mill, the party was greeted by a huge contingent of guards. Battle ensued, and the party defeated the guards with the assistance of the bard Pie and the “spirit” of the self-milling mill, which turned out to be a water weird. Previously, the party had captured the head of the guards to interrogate, and in the process of calming him down, they were interrupted by a knock at the door, with the voice promising no harm. There they met Zero: Solero’s brother, now forced into servitude with the rest of the town thanks to the fiendish contract. He explained Solero’s madness (see his character page for full info), and noted that Solero was currently at the birthday party for Zero’s son Owen. Solero saw Owen as his own son, and had gone nearly mad when Owen became seriously ill about a month ago. No one had seen Owen in weeks; Zero missed his son badly but was forbidden from seeing him.
With Zero in tow, the party investigated the meeting hall where the birthday party was being held. Zero entered first, and the party burst in shortly afterwards after hearing his scream. What was once his son was now a wight, a sentient, powerful zombie; the wight was under Solero’s control, and unceremoniously killed the “traitor.” The room was filled with civilians, so the party was hesitant to engage, but Anvrik managed to summon an illusion of a fire giant from Maggie’s deck of illusions, which scattered the civilians and kept them away from the battle site. Solero immediately brought forth several shadow demons to aid him…who disappeared as quickly as they arrived, thanks to Kailesis’s agreement with Jarthax. The battle was tough, but the party came out on top, with Solero and the wight defeated. He, too, had one of the dragon coins on his person.
They freed the Couatl, who now benevolently presides over the town, and set off towards Stormfjord — the road there contained reports of the wereboar that attacked Lillian, and Thorik received a personal vision in the druidic sanctuary that there was smithing knowledge to be gleaned there.